"It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it." - Oscar Wilde
Hot damn, would you please take a look at that cover?! Two guys and no perfect six pack in sight! Revolution!
Seriously though, I wanted to have this the moment I laid eyes on it. Because c'mon! When was the last time you've seen an overweight character on a romance book that didn't include the fat, unhappy guy going on a revolutionary diet, loosing 200 pounds and THEN finding their HEA? I'm almost tempted to say never. Also, don't let the cheerful, light cover fool you. This is not a low-angst, happy-go-lucky book, and the things the MCs are dealing with are not your standard college guys/experimentation/coming out MM recipe. Sometimes it seems like a different cake altogether.
In this book, we get to meet Robert who, at the tender age of 13, realized that he's gay but can't be due to his very opressive, conservative family. His coping mechanism became eating. His weight became his armor. If no one wants to touch him, there is no reason for him to think or talk about attraction at all. Nobody wants him, so he doesn't have to face wanting someone in return. Which works out for him until he meets his new roommate at college. Out and proud Pete is pretty and smart, and (unfortunately) attracted to Robert from the get-go. What to do when the life you carefully constructed around yourself suddenly doesn't fit anymore?
There are several things that could have gone wrong with this, but made me happy when they didn't. Start with Pete. His attraction to Robert could have gone downhill fast if it would have been portrayed as some kind of kink. Too often fat-shaming occurs in the context of "No normal person would love you, only the very kinky ones with a serious fetish." So I was very happy with Pete being attracted to Robert for various reasons, and while he does have a thing for "big guys", he never made me cringe or shudder for making Robert (or me) feel dirty in any way. It was not attraction DESPITE the weight, nor was it BECAUSE OF it. Kudos to the author for finding the perfect way and tone here.
Secondly, I was afraid that somehow the story would have an undertone of... pity, maybe? Or at least the notion that overweight people are all struggling with some internal crisis and that binge-eating is their way of dealing. It could have been one of those stories where overeating was the only reason for the weight of the MC, and the overeating was the only reason for the MC to have problems in the first place, and so on and on. I didn't feel that way at all here. There is no denying that overeating was one of Roberts coping mechanisms and his armor. But. That was not all of it. His weight was not his "main problem", nor would he become magically thin and trim and fit as soon as he started to deal with his issues. He's a big guy, he will always be a big guy. But he can be a healthy, sport-y, happy big guys. His overeating is a problem, binge-eating sweets until he's physically ill is a problem. But it's not all it is, and not once did I have the feeling that it was somehow meant as a generalization á la "All overweight people eat too much because they have mental problems." Kudos. Seriously. All the kudos!
Also, how awesome was it for Robert to find love without changing his complete lifestyle, loose 200 pounds, start running marathons and becoming a sports model?! I have no words for how happy I this made me. Because hot damn.
The only thing I struggled with a little were Roberts parents, or better say the black-and-white feel of the families. Where Pete's family was absolutely 100% awesome on all levels, Robert's parents were somewhat cartoonish, evil Bible-thumpers incapable of loving their son the way he was, or even acknowledging him as a real person. I don't think they once looked at Robert and actually SAW him. So that was a little disappointing for me, a little too clichéd for my taste. But honestly? In the grand scheme of things, it didn't take away from my enjoyment that much. Minor blib on a bigger radar, so to say.
This was a strong debut all around, and a very courageous one at that. The writing might not have been flawless or perfect, but I honestly didn't give a crap anymore at one point, because I just liked the story too much.